The Underscore (“_”), a.k.a. “gender gap”. One of many gender-inclusive written forms in German.

In written German, the Anglicism “gender gap” describes the underscore before the feminine suffix “-in” as used in gender-inclusive occupational terms for people such as Student_in, Professor_in, and Rektor_in. This is one of several gender-inclusive forms that can be used when writing in German, one in which the space above the underscore represents space for the diversity of gender identities.

What exactly does this mean?

By now, it has been clearly shown by science—and acknowledged by Austrian court rulings—that there are more genders than just the two socially dominant ones (male and female), with many possible forms existing between and beyond these two. However, a language that knows only male and female when referring to human beings will for the most part treat trans-identifying and intersex individuals as well as those who do not conform to the conventional gender binary as if they were non-existent. So if such a language is to render this diversity visible, it needs to work in new ways. The “gender gap” is one of these new ways—the asterisk (*) and tilde (~) are likewise common, and there are also more experimental forms such as the “x” in Profx.

Why is this significant to us now, in 2018?

Because the way in which we speak and refer to people plays a role in shaping the world we live in. And today—in contrast to, say, 50 years ago—referring to only two genders is simply no longer an adequate way in which to describe our society. This binary system of reference is one in which many individuals do not see themselves reflected. Such language renders them invisible and excludes them. Therefore, to insist on preserving binary forms of language is tantamount to ignoring scientific evidence and—above all—the needs of fellow human beings.

The gender gap, on the other hand, depicts a world that provides space for the diversity of human existence!

And for all the reasons mentioned above, the staff of mdw Magazine has decided to choose the underscore / gender gap as its standard gender-inclusive written form in German. Outside contributors to mdw Magazine may, however, use any gender-inclusive form they choose, and their doing so will serve to further visualise society’s pluralism in terms of such forms’ diversity.

You can pick up a copy of the (German-language) brochure on the mdw’s gender representation policies, entitled “Fair in Wort und Bild. Ein Leitfaden für die mdw”, free of charge at the mdw’s Administrative Department for Equality, Gender Studies, and Diversity.


*[Translator’s note: This article and the one by Hannah Alker-Windbichler address gender inclusivity in the German language. All German nouns have grammatical genders, with those of nouns referring to people for the most part being suggestive of the binary biological sexes (male/female). German also features extensive use of gender- and case-dependent declensions, for which reason gender plays a far greater grammatical role in German than it does in English. Since gender-neutrality per se is often impossible in German, gender-sensitive solutions for referring to groups of people and to non-specific/unknown individuals need to be explicitly gender-inclusive, taking present-day understandings of gender into account. Any reference to a specific, known person, on the other hand, will always be gender-specific and should thus be made using a form that is appropriate to that individual. The English version of mdw Magazine aims to refer to groups of people and to non-specific/unknown individuals using the gender-neutral and/or gender-inclusive forms commonly preferred in modern English, including possibilities such as “s_he”, the singular “they”, and other widely understood alternatives to the generic “he” as well as newer gender-neutral versions of honorifics (such as “Mx.”) where desired by the individuals being referred to.]

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